For the first time in 6 years, I decided to travel home for the holidays – following a series of unfortunate events (including a missed flight and nearly dropping my suitcase from onto a passenger’s head from the overhead compartment) I landed in the world’s busiest airport: Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International. I navigated my way through swarms of travelers and frustrated families – stepping outside into the passenger pickup area was a welcome relief. I spotted my mother’s taupe Toyota, and watched as it inched its way towards baggage claim. Despite the vehicular chaos all around us, I could see her small face beaming through the front windshield. That brief moment reminded me what this holiday is all about – Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with loved ones and reflect on all that we are truly thankful for. I hoisted my luggage into the trunk knowing that there would likely be drama and frustration, but at least I would be with family.
Every household has its own traditions for Thanksgiving – fortunately for ours, the requirements were fairly minimal: turkey, potatoes and gravy, and pie. The rest of the menu was left to my crazy scheming, which of course resulted in a family with distended bellies. Our plates were filled with a colorful array of both traditional and unconventional dishes. Given the following menu, you can understand why we experienced food comas shortly after the meal:
- Cider Brined and Glazed Turkey with Sage Gravy
- Honey-Glazed Ham
- Brie Bites
- Stuffed Mushrooms
- Indian-Spiced Roasted Vegetables over Lentils
- Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce
- Cornbread Stuffing
- Mashed Potatoes
- Chocolate Chip Blondies
- Bourbon Pumpkin Tart
- Apple Pie with Spiced Pastry
I’ll be sharing the recipes in bold for this post (even though I’d love to share them all with you!) A lot of these have make-ahead components, which (for a Thanksgiving chef) is vital to one’s sanity. So to start, let’s go right for the gold: the turkey. This was my fourth time making a turkey, and it weighed in at a whopping 20 POUNDS; just lifting this thing was a workout. Brining has become my go-to method, so I decided to try a different recipe this year using apple cider to make a Cider-Brined and Glazed Turkey with Sage Gravy.
The turkey brines for a full 24 hours, and then sits uncovered in the fridge for an additional 24 hours (to help the skin “dry out” post-brining). The broth, glaze, and even the fillings can all be prepared the night before. Cooking times will vary (depending on size and your oven) but ours took close to 4 ½ hours. Turkey is stressful, considering it’s not necessarily a “weekly staple”. Many of us have one shot to make this dish perfect – I tend to supervise for the first 3 hours, standing in the kitchen with oven mitts and a glass of wine at the ready. This recipe was a great twist on the classic, and I’m curious to try it again next year (especially since I didn’t manage to catch a photo of the finished bird – we were starving by the time it was ready!) Click HERE to see the recipe for this epic turkey.
Cranberries are sold everywhere during the holiday season. These small berries find their way into a variety of dishes, from fruit cocktails to meat condiments. Grown in acidic bogs, the berries turn from white to deep red when ripe and ready for harvest. They are too tart/bitter to be eaten raw, and thus are sweetened with sugar or other fruits. Spices (like cinnamon or nutmeg) can also be a welcome addition.
Cranberry sauce is a holiday staple in England, Canada, and the United States – it is a tradition that I personally love. That being said, I can’t stand the canned variety as it does no justice to this seasonal fruit. Making your own is so simple that it makes little to no sense to buy a tine of flavored jello. Granted this Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce is a little “fancier” than others: the citrus and spices give the sauce a warmer depth, and your kitchen will smell like heaven. While there is a good deal of sugar in this recipe, you can use more or less depending on your preference. Click HERE to see the recipe for this gorgeous side dish!
When initially considering a vegetable side, the majority of the recipes I had were in-line with traditional menus: pan-seared brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, roasted carrots. After rummaging through countless Pinterest boards, I came across a unique alternative: Indian-Spiced Roasted Vegetables over Lentils. I sent the recipe to my mom, and was surprised to get an approval (and from the Stepdad, no less!) I tripled this recipe (heh…) but the original makes the perfect amount for a “meatless Monday” option any old time. The presentation was breathtaking – the colors combined with rustic veggies made for a lovely wild card at our holiday spread. Click HERE to see the recipe for this colorful veggie side!
Dessert is nearly as important as the turkey (but not as stressful, thank GOD). While we’re not a family with a sweet tooth, we certainly had our fair share of options. To start, let’s talk about this Apple Pie with Spice Pastry – pie is the unwritten requisite for the holidays. A Thanksgiving dinner without pie is like Bach without figured bass…This is the type of dessert that can be enjoyed year after year, and it never gets old. I ended up choosing a recipe that includes spices in the actual pastry.
The result was a beautiful presentation of chopped apples nestled in a browned crust speckled with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The kitchen smelled heavenly, and the crust held up beautifully for serving. I might use this crust for future pies, and give a few other spices or herbs a try. Rosemary crust with pear filling, fennel pastry with spiced plums – the options are endless! Click HERE to see the recipe for this lovely pie.
This Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart had been on my list for a LONG time – it was on the cover of an issue of FineCooking magazine, and I knew I had to give it a try. Bourbon caramel sauce?? Sold. We served smaller slices…because our food comas would have been incurable had they been any larger. The bourbon helped to balance out the sweetness, while also giving giving the spices a smoky complement. I highly recommend this recipe – it’s a great alternative to pumpkin pie, and (though inordinately rich) will have your guests begging for seconds: click HERE to see the recipe for this decadent dessert!
This was not the first time I’d prepared a Thanksgiving dinner (see the 2011 and 2012 feasts, respectively) yet it was the first time preparing one for my family. Unlike hosting a party for friends, there is a certain level of expectation involved with one’s family during the holidays – you’ve already spent the better part of a week together, and a great meal becomes the thread that keeps everything in tact. My thoughts were awash with doubt: ‘They’ve been doing this without me for years – who am I to impose my cooking on their age-old traditions?’ Thankfully, my family is far more loving and supportive than my apprehensive thoughts may lead you to think. Remarkably, the fear of letting others down in the face of legacy is a timeworn theme. In the world of classical music, it is especially notable: the drive to innovate interpretations while also respecting that which came before is expected of any musician. Take Brahms: a German composer whose music had reached acclaim at the ripe age of 20 (having received written praise from his to-be mentor and friend Robert Schumann). Yet despite this success, Brahms felt his writing was constantly shadowed by the German “greats” whose works had redefined the standards of music. Beethoven’s precedent was especially harrowing, having said himself: “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.”
The symphony was a feat that Brahms had yet to undertake. He feared a venture into the symphonic idiom would have no value in the face of Beethoven’s symphonic masterpieces: how could his symphony have any commensurate measure? After nearly 15 years of compositional sketches and second-guessing, Brahms finally completed his first symphony: Symphony No. 1 in C minor – today it is one of the most celebrated in the orchestral repertoire.
Overcoming the pressure of precedents may be a difficult task, yet will lead to new traditions and values. Our Thanksgiving meal was an overwhelming success – while I could have dwelt on the setbacks or imperfect outcomes, they were ultimately of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. Laughter, joy, and family – that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, after all. The following recording of Brahms’ first symphony is with Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Phil: enjoy!
“Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68.” The Kennedy Center